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Local clinic saving lives, money through DNA testing

CBS 21

When the Clinic for Special Children opened in 1989, the mission was to serve a vulnerable demographic -- children in the Amish and Mennonite populations.

The goal was to create a place for affordable and accessible quality of care for those people.

The clinic serves the younger patients but also has a research laboratory to detect diseases and disorders early in life. By doing so, doctors can take preventative measures against illness later in life.

"By investing in technology that allows to effectively prevent health outcomes," Dr. Kevin Strauss said. "In the long run, we can save the public, millions, if not billions in healthcare."

Dr. Strauss serves at the clinic's medical director at its rural Strasburg location in Lancaster County. He said since the clinic opened, patients have been able to take preventative measures towards treatment early on which can reduce hospital stays.

Amongst the Mennonite community, the Maple Syrup Urine Disease was common before the clinic opened. The death rates were high, Strauss said.

However, through genetic testing and research at the facility, Strauss said doctors were able to make the rate drop almost completely through early prevention mechanisms over the last 25 years.

The timing for detection, though, is crucial.

Parents can be tested to determine if they are carriers of the disease that may have cycled down generations. Not long after birth, blood from the baby's umbilical cord can be tested to see if the newborn has the condition which can lead to brain swelling, brain damage in life and has been proven deadly.

The Clinic for Special Children has a laboratory on site to do DNA testing to determine the strains that may have an impact on their life. It is on call 24 hours a day.

"I don't know if there's another genetics lab in the world that does that," Strauss said.

The Special Clinic for Children is funded mostly through donations, benefit auctions, specialized grants, and a small majority comes from patients, according to administration.

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